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UK film industry pioneer Sir Sydney Samuelson dies aged 97

Sir Sydney Samuelson, pioneer of the UK film and TV industry and founder of the Samuelson Group, has died aged 97.

He was at home with his family. 

Samuelson spent more than 50 years working in the UK industry, bolstering its position as a leader of film and television production, to rival Hollywood.

He started his career in 1939 aged 14 working in a cinema projection booth, and later became cinematographer and founder of the Samuelson Group, which he built with his three brothers into the largest film equipment servicing company in the world. He was appointed as the government’s first British film commissioner, and served as leader of Bafta, and many other industry organisations and charities, as well as a lifelong member of union Bectu.

In 1943, he signed up as a flight navigator for the RAF, later joining the film unit of the British Colonial Office as a trainee cameraman.

After the war he worked on many shows for the BBC and independent television companies, and, as a part of a camera team recording the coronation in Westminster Abbey in 1953, was responsible for the famous shot of the Queen being crowned, repairing a broken spring in his camera just in time.

Along with his wife Doris, and later his brothers, he formed Samuelson Film Service in 1954, renting out equipment to film professionals. The company, which came to be known as Sammies, later established branches around the world, working on all of David Lean’s films, 13 James Bond movies, Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, Norman Jewison’s Fiddler On The Roof and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Samuelson served as chairman, vice-chair of film and a founder trustee for Bafta, and was instrumental in fundraising for the charity.

As the first British film commissioner, appointed in 1991, he campaigned to promote the UK as a leading destination for international film production. He worked with government to introduce the first UK tax incentive for international productions.

In 1985, he received Bafta’s Michael Balcon Award for outstanding British contribution to film, in 1993, a Bafta Fellowship for his contribution to the film and television industry, and in 1997 – the year he retired – he was given a British Film Institute fellowship. He was also issued with a knighthood in 1995.

A statement from the British Film Institute described him as “a quiet but determined man whose word was his bond in every facet of his life and career, Sir Sydney was renowned for his professionalism, efficiency and flexibility. He would never turn down a request for involvement or help, indeed he was determined to give more back to the industry than he ever gave out.”

At Bafta, CEO Jane Millichip and chair Krishnendu Majumdar said: ”For more than 55 years, Sir Sydney Samuelson made a significant contribution to Bafta, working tirelessly to serve its charitable aims, supporting film and television makers and promoting the British film production sector.  

He has been an inspiration to many and a great friend and mentor to members and staff alike.”

His support for the industry extended to running the London Marathon in 1982 to help raise money for the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund.

Samuelson came from a UK industry family. His father George ‘Bertie’ Samuelson was a producer of silent films.

His wife died earlier this year. He is survived by his three sons, Marc and Peter – both film and TV producers – and Jonathan, plus eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.


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